Rocking the Prestige more softly than Greg

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Last fall, I published a post about trying to slim down my collection of ultra-premium cards. In that post, I concluded that the most expendable ultra-premium cards in my household are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Business Platinum. After the recent announcement of an annual fee increase on the Business Platinum card, there is no doubt that card is going to make an exit at next anniversary, But is the Prestige a keeper over the Sapphire Reserve for 2020?

Rocking Prestige softly

Greg recently wrote about how the Citi Prestige is rocking his wallet in 2019. It’s rocking mine as well. The annual fee increase on that card is not scheduled to take effect until the next anniversary date after September 1. 2019. That gives me until Spring 2020 to decide whether or not to keep the card….sort of.

One of the key enhancements on the Prestige is that it now offers 5x on airfare and at most travel agencies. While Amex beat Citi to the punch in offering 5x on airfare a while back on the Platinum cards, Citi’s trip delay / interruption / cancellation protections offer far more reason to book flights with the Prestige. I’ve only had to make one such claim, but I received the full $500 reimbursement when I did (though I’m confident that my claim would be denied today based on the way Citi seems to be gaming the definition of delay). Still, trip delay protection matters to me and is a factor whenever I book flights. I always pay for my airfare or award taxes with a card that will cover me if things go wrong.

And that’s why I think the Citi Prestige card will only rock my wallet softly for the time being. It is my go-to card for restaurants for 2019 I think. While I’m not sure I have my mind made up as to whether 5 ThankYou points per dollar is better than 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar, the lack of certainty in how restaurants will code on the Amex Gold will keep my Prestige on top for dining.

But will the Prestige be my go-to card for flight booking? It will be for flights I intend to take this year. As long as we hold a Sapphire Reserve, the Prestige may get edged out by the CSR on itineraries that have a lot of connections or short connection times simply because Citi is unlikely to cover expenses when the airline makes you miss your connection. But for simpler itineraries, I’ll take 5x ThankYou points over 3x Ultimate Rewards.

However, things get murky for 2020. Award travel enthusiasts know that booking windows typically open between 330-360 days in advance of departure. Some of the most desirable awards and/or those for travel during peak periods often need to be booked a year in advance. That means I’ll be booking 2020 travel during 2019. I will of course want that 2020 travel to be covered under trip delay / cancellation / interruption benefits. While it isn’t immediately clear to me that canceling my Prestige account would nullify those benefits, I would rather book with a card that I intend to keep open — whether that’s the Prestige, the CSR, or the Ritz. I therefore think that I need to make at least a tentative decision this year as to whether or not I intend to renew the Prestige in 2020. Of course, if I decide not to renew it in 2020, it will not be my card of choice for 2020 flight bookings.

If I’m only going to rock the Prestige softly, is it worth keeping in 2019 at all? Since Citi’s 4th night free is still useful for bookings made by September 1, 2019, I think I’ll keep the Prestige this year. I’ve made use of that benefit several times now and when considered along with earning 5x at restaurants, I think there is enough value to justify keeping the card for 2019.

Is the CSR’s 1.5c per point towards travel big enough to keep that card?

In Greg’s post earlier this week about contemplating the future of his Sapphire Reserve card, he concluded that he will keep it in order to spend down some of his Ultimate Rewards fortune at good value.

While I don’t have Greg’s stash of millions of Ultimate Rewards points, I run through a healthy amount of earn-and-burn in terms of Ultimate Rewards. I’ve noted previously that I’ve used the Chase portal to book travel more than I ever anticipated I would. Cheap airfare means it is sometimes possible to book a flight for fewer points than an award would cost and still earn miles on that flight when you book through the portal. Most of my Ultimate Rewards points are earned at greater than 1x, so I’m not getting a bad deal at 1.5c per point and I get to experience the joy of free.

Greg justified keeping the CSR based on the 28,000 points he would save if he spent $2,100 per year on flights through the portal (as compared to how many points he would use at 1.25c per point with his Ink Business Preferred). I think my difference would likely be fewer points, especially based on my intended travel for this year. How much would I need to book via the Chase portal to justify keeping the Sapphire Reserve?

While I understand the argument against valuing the Sapphire Reserve’s annual travel credit at face value, I almost always use the entire $300 in month 1. To keep the math simple, let’s say that I value that credit at face value since I’ll spend that $300 whether or not I have the CSR. That means my net cost to keep the CSR is $150. Since you can cash in 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $150, I should keep the CSR if booking through the Chase portal will save me more than 15,000 points.

The math on that comes out to $1125 in travel purchased through the Chase portal. If I have the CSR, $1125 in travel will cost me 75,000 Ultimate Rewards points (at 1.5c each). If I instead book with my Chase Ink Plus / Ink Business Preferred, it would cost me 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points to book the same amount of travel. Keeping the CSR saves me enough points to justify its fee if I use 75K points or more to book travel through the Chase portal. While I don’t have millions of Ultimate Rewards points to spend down, I do intend to make a booking today that will cover about half of that. I expect that I’ll likely eclipse 75K in points redeemed through the Chase portal this year, so I should keep the CSR. I’ll note that I do not share Greg’s emotional attachment to the CSR — I’ve actually figured each year that we would downgrade it, but it keeps making more sense to keep it.

So where does that leave my Prestige card?

If I know I’m going to keep our CSR, that card will be used to book 2020 travel. Between a less valuable rewards system and an increasing annual fee, I don’t think I can justify keeping the Prestige for 5x dining alone. I further don’t think there is room in my wallet for both the Prestige and the CSR — too many benefits and transfer partners overlap. I’ll keep the Prestige card in 2019 for a couple more 4th night free bookings and 5x at restaurants and on flights I intend to take this year. I’ll rock it softly and likely say goodbye in spring of 2020 in favor of the CSR.

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